Monday, November 3, 2008

The Pot Luck Dinner - Not your usual article about hosting a potluck.

This article about enjoying great food and friends without spending too much money. It is beautifully written, inspiring and uplifting particularly in these uncertain times. It happens to be written by one of my oldest and dearest friends Susan Buchanan. But the fact that she is my friend does not negate the validity of the thoughts or the beauty of the writing. She does a great job of writing about food and painting a vivid mental picture while inspiring and informing you.

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Food for Soul: Spread a Sense of Abundance by Hosting a Potluck Supper
By Susan Buchanan of Venus Rising: A Companion for Living

This year we are entering the tunnel of winter during one of the darkest economic moments in recent history. Feeling insecure about the future, many of us are beginning to tighten our belts and think of ways to cut corners. However, in the midst of this economic stress, it is more important than ever to eat well and find ways to feed the soul. In order to do this, we need to remind ourselves where there is abundance in friends, family, and food.

A potluck is an easy and affordable way to enjoy good food and spend quality time with others. A potluck may remind us of an odd mixture of foods that don’t complement each other. In fact, the term potluck was coined to represent the luck a guest would have when she showed up at a neighbor’s house around dinner time. The visitor ate whatever her host happened to be cooking, whatever she had in the “pot” on the stove. There were no special preparations made for the visitor. As such, one may get lucky and have a feast, or one may be stuck eating less than exciting leftovers.

The potluck expanded to its more modern concept – a gathering with everyone bringing food to share – through churches in the late 19th century, when potluck became “potluck supper.” Potluck suppers were also formats for community dinners put on to fund raise. With this newer meaning, the “luck” part may still represent how good the food is that comes to the table, but it is also the recognition of the friends and people we have to share it with.

With a little more control than the church sign up sheet, you can designate a certain number of salads, main dishes, and desserts and create a potluck supper that truly makes everyone feel rich and lucky. You can also make it more interesting by designing a theme that everyone works into their dish such as southern comfort, Italian, Thai, or California fusion. Here are some ideas to give you and your guests inspiration.

- Reinvigorate the potluck salad. Use lettuces that are bright green or red and add additional color with dried berries and red and yellow peppers. Give it an Italian flair with shaved Parmesan or a Greek tone with Feta. Toss with toasted nuts and a simple vinaigrette when ready to put it on the table. Change the traditional cold broccoli salad to an Asian inspired salad by lightly pan frying fresh broccoli until crisp and tender and drizzling with a blend of sunflower oil, a touch of sesame oil, and soy sauce. Toss with sesame seeds and sprinkle some of those seeds on top when you put it out to serve.

Main Dishes - Refresh the dreaded overcooked pasta goulash to a real Italian staple. Serve fresh spaghetti in a large bowl, coated with just a little high-quality olive oil and sea salt. Along side the pasta, have a bowl of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese with a small serving spoon and a peppermill for guests to adorn their spaghetti themselves. Potluck goers will feel like they are in an Italian restaurant rather than a church basement. Alternatively, challenge yourself to redo the dreaded tuna casserole. Add the best quality Italian canned tuna, fresh peas, chopped sautéed spinach, cremini mushrooms, and a homemade sauce, avoiding the canned cream of mushroom soup. A simple cream sauce can be made with butter or oil, flour, and broth or milk. Just Google or look up béchamel sauce and search for a method that seems simple to you. Skip the rice casserole and opt for risotto instead, adding seasonal veggies and using a touch of wine in the cooking. Certainly a good beef stew is still great potluck fare but try chicken instead of beef. Boneless is easiest to serve and eat at a potluck so choose boneless chicken breasts and thighs and stew with sweet potatoes, onions, and rosemary. Serve with crusty bread and you may have found a new potluck staple.

- For dessert, revive the ambrosia salad. Surprise the potluck crowd with fresh pineapple, fresh clementines, toasted coconut, and almonds and a mixture of strained Greek yogurt and honey as the dressing. If you can’t imagine this grandmother’s recipe without marshmallows, go ahead and put them in too. I doubt anyone will object. Or, on a large plate, display bite-sized pieces of star fruit, mango, Asian pears, and kiwi. Place a small bowl or two of canned lychees or pomegranate seeds on the plate. Aside from fruit, the potluck dessert could entail any matter of bar or brownie. Of course, people will always love brownies but try to optimize your opportunity to make decadent bars, something you might not do for your family. Fancy blondies, with macadamia nuts and white chocolate, would be a not-so-everyday bar exceptional for a potluck. Or, be like the smart lady coveted by the church crowd with her layers of chocolate and butterscotch chips, nuts, coconut, graham crackers and sweetened condensed milk. The seven layer bar may become your signature creation.

With everyone contributing something, prepare your table for the riches that will adorn it. Make it special with a pretty table cloth; use your good table ware and cloth napkins. Make sure you have a centerpiece, whether it is fresh greenery, varying sizes of candles, a plant or a carved pumpkin. Once the people you care about show up and the food is displayed all together, you have a recipe for thumbing your nose at these ominous times, defying them by your mere act of gathering to enjoy a meal together to celebrate your good fortune.

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